The trend towards smaller, greener homes is growing. Downsizing and creating an eco-friendly home is probably not as difficult as you imagine. You may think that it will take up too much time, energy and money. You may imagine that it will restrict your choices and give you no opportunity to express your particular sense of style. This is simply not true. Your budget, your health and the planet will all benefit as you take small steps towards this goal.
When children have flown the nest, you are in a great position to reconsider your needs and wants. You may want to travel more and if this is the case, the convenience of a smaller, lock-up-and-go home cannot be underestimated. Large homes are like high-powered cars – they are more expensive and harder to look after than the smaller ones. It is possible to make your life simpler without sacrificing your lifestyle when you downsize and go green.
What is a green home?
An eco-friendly or green home is:
- constructed with eco-friendly materials
- efficiently designed to provide maximum ventilation and insulation.
- contains long-lasting, functional fittings and furnishings.
- uses energy thoughtfully, making it cheap and efficient to run.
- makes use of the sun, water and natural light effectively.
- is designed to connect interiors with the outside natural world.
- keeps you comfortable and safe.
The natural elements like the sun have always had an influence on how we live – cave dwellings were chosen to catch the light in cold climates, while homes in the tropics were built with wide verandahs for shelter from the sun. If you have decided to move to a smaller home, you are in the position to choose one that satisfies eco-friendly requirements as far as possible. Here are some factors to consider if you want to downsize and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.
Finding the right location is important. Moving across the country when you decide to downsize can prove very expensive and you may find yourself traveling back to your original home frequently to visit friends and family. It often makes more sense to find your new, smaller home closer to your current neighborhood where you have probably built up a network of friends over years. Here are some other factors to think about when choosing the location of a smaller, more eco-friendly home:
- is it in a quiet, unpolluted area?
- Is it close to shops and/or work?
- Are the streets lined with trees?
- Does it have good views?
- Is it private?
- Do streetlights shine into rooms at night?
- Is there any green space?
- Is it surrounded by other buildings that might block out light?
When you are serious about going green, your means of transportation should be reassessed. Want to save big? Consider getting rid of one of your cars. After your kids leave the nest, transportation needs change drastically. You no longer really need that SUV or a minivan and a smaller vehicle uses much less gas and costs less to maintain. If you are not ready for this, another option is to swap your cars for smaller ones. If you decide to do this, you need to carefully consider price, performance and safety as well as size. Think about walking more, too, rather than just automatically jumping into the car even when going a short distance. The closer your home is to shops, entertainment etc. the easier it becomes to do more walking and this can save you a great deal in fuel and improve your health at the same time.
3. An energy audit
Don’t just assume that a small home is always more energy efficient than a larger one. You must assess its energy-efficiency. Perhaps it already has solar panels, additional insulation and a modern heating system but these benefits come with a price and this may not fit your budget. Don’t worry if you can’t afford these expensive solutions. Just make sure that your smaller home is well constructed. You can hire a professional energy auditor, who will give the home a complete examination. If you would rather perform your own audit, you can do a free online energy survey or a DIY audit (find out more by reading Home Energy Audits. A test will show you any flaws such as leaky windows or doors. Once the home is properly sealed, added insulation is the next step. These steps may not be as exciting as having solar panels but they can go a long way towards reducing costs.
Once you are in the home, there are many simple measures you can take that make a difference too. For example, a simple step to take is to use more efficient, longer lasting LED light bulbs, Download an energy-saving guide and see how easy it is to make small changes.
4. Energy-saving appliances
When you move to a smaller home, it makes sense to trade in your large, energy-guzzling appliances for smaller more energy-efficient ones. Appliances have come a long way over the past few years, becoming more efficient and using less energy. Europe, Scandanavia and America have developed eco-labeling and Energy Star certification which helps you to see clearly how one product compares with others instead of just relying on a manufacturer’s claim that it is energy-efficient.
You want a washing machine that gives the best wash possible and uses as little energy and water at the same time. A general consensus seems to be that front loaders are more energy-efficient than top loaders, although top loaders are improving all the time.
An example of an 7kg washing machine with an A+++ energy rating is the John Lewis JLWM1205. The slim depth of this model makes it ideal for a smaller home but it still has a large porthole so loading and unloading is easy. Its price is reasonable for a washing machine that performs as well as many of the more expensive machines. It isn’t as noisy as some of the cheaper machines either and you get a three-year guarantee. It’s a good choice if you don’t have too much to spend but unfortunately this product is only available to UK residents.
The Haier HLP24E 1.5 cu. ft. Portable Washer with Stainless Steel Drum and Pulsator Wash System was rated the top portable washing machine by Top Ten Reviews, earning their Gold Award. They say “The Haier HLP24E is the best portable washing machine out of all the ones we evaluated. It combines a portable design with numerous wash settings, which enables you to fully clean your clothes and avoid the laundromat altogether. You can move the machine from room to room easily because it is lightweight and has cabinet handles to help you pick up. Overall, this is the best portable washing machine we evaluated because it offers the best solutions for cleaning your clothes, even if you live in an apartment or home without standard washer hookups.” Read their full review for more information.
An A-rated dishwasher can actually save more water and energy than washing up by hand. This is because they sense the dirtiness of the water and decide whether it can be used twice. They also use hot water from one cycle to warm the water in the next, and use cold water to condense steam so dishes can be dried with air alone.
The SPT SD-9252SS Energy Star 18″ Built-In stainless steel Dishwasher is a best seller on Amazon. Another best seller on Amazon is the SPT Countertop Dishwasher with 1,480 customer reviews. Perfect for apartments, office kitchens or any small-sized kitchens, it offers full-size power in a compact design. With a height of only 17.24-inch, this unit will fit between most countertops and cabinetry.
5. Heating, air-conditioning and water
When your home is small and well insulated, it is much easier to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer, A variety of technologies are available – furnaces and boilers, wood and pellet heaters, active solar heating, and heat pumps, which are used for both heating and cooling. Find out all you need to know about home heating and the different options available from the U.S. Energy Department.
Water is vital to our lives and rather than relying totally on water supplied to us, we need to learn to put some of our faith in the natural cycle of water. This may involve collecting rainwater from roofs and storing it in tanks, re-using ‘grey’ water and generally being more conscious of wastage. Various products have been manufactured that help to save water too. You can turn a standard toilet into a dual flush two button toilet quite easily by using a converter to increase its water efficiency. No tools are needed for its installation and you don’t have to remove the tank. You can use a water-saving showerhead that reduces water usage but still has a strong, satisfying spray.
Once you are in your small home, following simple, practical tips on water-saving can reduce costs too.
Living in a smaller home makes sense – it is easier to maintain and reduces costs considerably. When your children have left home, there is no reason to stay in a large home with unused rooms and it can actually hamper your lifestyle. When you make the decision to move to a smaller home, it also makes sense to make it as eco-friendly as possible. Just remember that because ‘going green’ has become a catch-phrase, it is being used as a selling point. Make sure you are well informed about greener options to find your way through all the hype and discover what truly makes a difference.